Pyramid proposes a complex of 222 apartments and townhouses on Rapp Road

The Enterprise — Michael Koff 
Pyramid Management is proposing building a total of 222 apartments and townhouses, with retail shops, on land behind the Capital City Diner, at the corner of Rapp and Gipp roads. In this photo, Gipp Road goes off to the right. The building area would be straight ahead, behind the trees. To the left, not visible, is the Macy’s end of Crossgates Mall.

GUILDERLAND — Just after opening a hotel on Western Avenue in October, Pyramid Management, the owners of Crossgates Mall, now proposes a complex of 222 residential units to the west of the mall.

Pyramid received over a million dollars in tax breaks from the Guilderland Industrial Development Agency to build the hotel.

Pyramid has now submitted an application to the IDA for tax breaks on the apartment and townhouse project, according to the agency's chief executive officer, Donald Csaposs. The application is for $1.2 million in sales tax and use tax exemptions, and $355,000 in mortgage-recording tax exemptions, Csaposs said.

In 1998, when Pyramid first started buying homes on the residential streets near Crossgates, it had plans to build an eight-story hotel and a recreation facility at Crossgates, more than doubling the mall’s size. Massive citizen protest led the town to reject the required zoning changes. Two decades later, Pyramid has built the hotel and looks set to continue with plans for other development in the area.

Currently, a new citizens’ group has formed, concerned about intense development plans with more than 1,200 proposed apartments, many of them just two miles from Crossgates.

Pyramid Management and project engineer The Chazen Companies will likely make an initial presentation of the project to the planning board on Dec. 12.

Pyramid Partner Michael Shanley of Guilderland told The Enterprise that, just as with the hotel, Pyramid is approaching the apartment project as an effort to “maintain Crossgates as an asset for our families and also for the town of Guilderland.” The hotel, he said, has “turned out to be a real asset for the town and the area.”

Shanley said that, from the beginning of Pyramid and Crossgates, which opened 34 years ago, “We’ve been pretty much 100-percent focused on retail. That market is obviously changing, so we start looking for other alternatives.”

He said Crossgates Mall is “doing quite well, but it’s very hard work.” The trend of adding entertainment and dining alternatives to the mall will continue, he said, and the mall will look for retailers that are “the best of the best” and “will be in the business for a long time.”

Shanley said Pyramid has other development ideas for land around the ring road, but he declined to describe them, saying that the company prefers to bring one plan to completion — or wait until “it’s received all the approvals” — before moving on to the next.

Pyramid’s plan

Pyramid Management wants to build its residential complex on about 20 acres southwest of Rapp and Gipp roads, behind Capital City Diner. Square footage of the proposed buildings was not available Friday.

The complex includes two apartment buildings, each five stories tall; three townhouse buildings of two stories each, each with 10 units; and up to 4,300 square feet of retail space.

The two apartment buildings would be L-shaped, with one side of each L fronting a boulevard-style street between them and the other side fronting Rapp Road. The townhouses would be behind the apartment buildings. The commercial space would be along Rapp Road, south of Gipp Road.

The application is for a site-plan review and needs approval only from the town’s planning board, said town Planner Kenneth Kovalchik. He then added that the project also involves a minor subdivision application, which will be referred to the town’s Conservation Advisory Council.

The new hotel by Pyramid in front of Crossgates Mall is five stories tall. The town’s chief building inspector, Jacqueline M. Coons, told The Enterprise earlier that the maximum allowed height for a hotel in a general-business district is six stories. In most zoning districts in the town, the maximum height allowed is two-and-a-half stories or 35 feet.

The town created a Transit-Oriented District — an overlay district — earlier this year that would concentrate development around the Crossgates Mall ring road, as a way of bypassing Western Avenue, the town’s main and heavily traveled thoroughfare, said Guilderland Superintendent Peter Barber, who added that concentrating apartment development in the area of the ring road is in keeping with the recommendations professional planners made in the 2016 Westmere Corridor Study, Barber said.

Transit-Oriented Development District regulations allow for varying maximum heights — lower near surrounding neighborhoods and higher near the ring road — with the highest of these 55 feet. Kovalchik was not sure on Friday of the height for the proposed five-story apartment buildings but said that he thought that, with flat roofs, the buildings “could still potentially be under that 55 feet.”

“Other than the hotel, this is the first big project we’re getting as part of that,” said Kovalchik, referring to the new district.

The buildings’ square footage is not included on the site plan or other documents on file with the town, and Pyramid Management officials did not return a request for information on Friday.

Pyramid Management spent years buying up nearly all the homes, which are now almost all vacant, on formerly residential streets near the mall, on Lawton Terrace, Gabriel Terrace, Rielton Court, and Tiernan Court. No developments have been proposed there yet.

Assessor’s view

The 11.6-acre parcel is valued at $344,800, said Guilderland’s assessor, Karen Van Wagenen. She added, “In 2005 land values.” Guilderland is now undertaking a town-wide revaluation, for the first time since 2005.

Van Wagenen said, “Now it’s probably worth a whole lot more, and we’ll find out, in our reval!”

Most of the parcel is just south of the Albany city line, Van Wagenen said, although a strip about 30 feet wide that runs along the northern edge of the property is in Albany. As long as that strip is not built on, the developer most likely does not need to get permission from the city, she said, adding, “They’re probably going to leave that part blank.”

Historic neighborhood

The Rapp Road community — small wooden homes built between 1930 and 1960 by African-American families who had come north from Mississippi to escape the violence and racism of the Jim Crow South — is adjacent to Pyramid’s proposed development.

The neighborhood of hand-built homes lining Rapp Road and Springsteen Road has been named to the national and the state registers of historic places and, in 2016, was named to the list of “Seven to Save” — important districts or buildings selected by the New York State Preservation League as worthy of preservation.

The fact that the neighborhood remains largely intact makes it unique, said Susan Herlands Holland in 2016, when she was the executive director of Historic Albany, which nominated the Rapp Road community at that time for Seven to Save designation.

Beverly Bardequez, president of the Rapp Road Historical Association, told The Enterprise in 2016, “We’re constantly trying to put out fires of people wanting to come in and change the face of the community. As they see it, these are just little bungalows along the road that are not worth much, that are in disrepair and need to be torn down.”

Pyramid owns at least one piece of property and possibly more, in the neighborhood, Bardequez said this week.

Bardequez also said that some original houses from the African-American neighborhood had stood where the mall was built nearly four decades ago.

Today, the community consists of just 12 original homes; of those, seven are occupied by descendants of the original settlers, Bardequaz said.

About Pyramid’s current proposal, she said, “We’re already deluged with traffic as it is. And to put that number of apartments and townhouses at that end, it would just really make things crazy. This road can’t handle that kind of traffic.”

She added that it is already hard for Rapp Road residents to get out of their driveways during morning or evening rush hours.

She noted that Pine Lane — a two-lane dead-end road located just a few feet north of Gipp Road but in the city of Albany — has several condominium subdivisions, and another is proposed there.

“We’ve known that they would like to purchase all of this property. We’ve known that for years,” Bardequez said of Pyramid. “I am right now trying to reach out because I need to gather support from this community for this community.”

She concluded, “It’s a battle. It’s a never-ending battle.”

Traffic study

According to a traffic study done by Maser Consulting P.A. of Valhalla, New York, included with Pyramid’s application, the project would have two driveway connections to Rapp Road and, from there, would connect to the ring road around the mall for connection directly to Interstate 87, Interstate 90, and Washington Avenue Extension.

The Capital District Transportation Authority has proposed a new express bus route from Crossgates Mall to downtown Albany, and a new transit center at the mall that would include a climate-controlled passenger waiting area on the second floor, connected to the food court; a 10-bus parking deck on the mall’s south side; and improvements, such as roundabouts, to the ring road and its connections to Western Avenue and the interstate highway system.

These improvements are expected to reduce the the number of trips on adjacent roads by 10 to 20 percent but, in order to ensure a conservative estimate, this reduction was not taken into account, according to the traffic study.

Hourly trip-generation rates and anticipated site-generated traffic volumes were developed based on information in the Institution of Transportation Engineers’ “Trip Generation Manual,” the study says. The proposed development would generate 102 trips (24 trips in and 78 out) in the weekday peak morning hour, and 124 trips (78 in and 46 out) during the weekday peak evening hour.

The peak hours were determined to be, based on turning-movement traffic counts and New York State Department of Transportation historical traffic-count data, to be 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.

The study looked at these intersections: Western Avenue and Rapp Road (Johnston Road); Rapp Road and Crossgates Mall Road; Rapp Road and Gipp Road; Rapp Road and Pine Lane; Rapp Road and Springsteen Road; Springsteen Road and South Frontage Road; and Washington Avenue Extension and Springsteen Road/Crossgates Commons.

The study looked at how well each of these intersections functioned on a date in November 2017 at the morning and evening peak hours, and compared them to two scenarios for 2022, one in which the proposed development is not built, and one in which it is built.

The study estimated traffic at these intersections based on a review of existing traffic volumes, on expected travel patterns, and on site layout. It anticipated that 60 percent of trips will involve taking the ring road to and from the interstate highway system and Washington Avenue Extension eastbound. The remaining 40 percent will take Rapp Road to and from the south, with 20 percent traveling to or from Washington Avenue Extension, north of the site, and 20 percent going to or from Western Avenue, south of the site.

The study gave each intersection with a traffic light a grade for “level of service,” based on the average amount of vehicle delay for each approach to the intersection as well as for the overall intersection.

A level of service of “A” is the highest, and “F” is the lowest. The design standard is “C,” according to the study, while “D” is acceptable during peak periods. Intersections without traffic lights, like Rapp and Gipp roads, are calculated based on total elapsed time when a vehicle stops at the end of the queue until the vehicle departs from the stop line.

The level of service for each of the intersections studied was unchanged between 2017 and 2022, in both no-build and build scenarios, according to the study.

Tax breaks considered

Pyramid’s application to Guilderland’s Industrial Development Agency, an organization that is meant to help generate economic growth, is currently under review for completeness, Csaposs said. If the application is added to the agenda for the next IDA meeting, it would be posted to the town website in advance of the meeting date, Csaposs said, adding that the next IDA meeting is Dec. 17 at 8 a.m.

A public hearing would take place in about early January, Csaposs said, and the IDA board would consider the request at its January meeting. Public input would be welcome at the hearing and at the board meeting, and would be welcomed in writing “at any point in between for inclusion in the permanent record,” Csaposs added. ​

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